Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘tree

Ants love flameleaf sumac flowers

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Ants love the flowers of flameleaf sumac, Rhus lanceolata. It’s hard to see individual ants and flowers above, so here’s an enlargement of a little piece of the top picture:

I found this young flameleaf sumac flowering in my part of town on August 23rd.

  

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Truth does indeed have immense power; yet it remains extremely elusive. No single person, no body of opinion, no political or religious doctrine, no political party or government can claim to have a monopoly on truth. For that reason truth can be arrived at only through the untrammelled contest between and among competing opinions, in which as many viewpoints as possible are given a fair and equal hearing. It has therefore always been our contention that laws, mores, practices and prejudices that place constraints on freedom of expression are a disservice to society. Indeed these are the devices employed by falsehood to lend it strength in its unequal contest with truth.

That’s from a speech Nelson Mandela gave to the International Press Institute Congress on February 14, 1994. Jacob Mchangama quoted it in his 2022 book Free Speech. He then noted, unfortunately, that “according to data from the Committee to Protect Journalists, 1,010 journalists were imprisoned from 2011 to 2020. This represents an alarming 78% increase from the previous decade of 2001 to 2010.” Mchangama later added that “the V-Dem Institute’s Democracy Report 2020—the largest global dataset on democracy—found that media censorship intensified in a record-breaking thirty-seven countries in 2019.”

And I’m dismayed to report the degree to which censorship and suppression of information have increased in my own country. For example, a September 1st article in the Epoch Times by Zachary Stieber documents some of the ways that “more than 50 officials in President Joe Biden’s administration across a dozen agencies have been involved with efforts to pressure Big Tech companies to crack down on alleged misinformation.” Some of that “misinformation” came from highly qualified doctors, professors, and medical researchers who happened to have opinions about the pandemic that differed from the official party line.

The documents that the Epoch Times article cites as evidence that the government pressured companies into censoring opposing opinions “were part of a preliminary production in a lawsuit levied against the government by the attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana, later joined by experts maligned by federal officials.” You can read an announcement about that from Missouri’s Attorney General. It’s likely we’ll learn more as the lawsuit progresses.

When we look at events in the past we’re appalled, for example, by the way authorities suppressed the scientific findings of Galileo because those findings differed from orthodox—and incorrect—views of the world. We should be equally appalled when powerful people in our own era suppress views they disagree with.

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UPDATE: After I wrote this post (I usually prepare posts several days in advance of posting), the Epoch Times put out an article on September 7 which began as follows:

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, and other top Biden administration officials who were resisting efforts to obtain their communications with Big Tech companies must hand over the records, a federal judge ruled on Sept. 6.

U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty, a Trump appointee, ordered the government to quickly produce documents after it was sued by the attorneys general of Louisiana and Missouri over alleged collusion with Big Tech firms such as Facebook. The initial tranche of discovery, released on Aug. 31, revealed that more than 50 government officials across a dozen agencies were involved in applying pressure to social media companies to censor users.

But some of the officials refused to provide any answers, or answer all questions posed by the plaintiffs. Among them: Fauci, who serves as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden.

The government claimed that Fauci should not be required to answer all questions or provide records in his capacity as NIAID director or in his capacity as Biden’s chief medical adviser. It also attempted to withhold records and responses from Jean-Pierre.

In the new ruling on Tuesday breaking the stalemate, Doughty said both Fauci and Jean-Pierre needed to comply with the interrogatories and record requests.

 

As I said above, it’s likely we’ll learn more as the lawsuit progresses. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits our government from interfering with citizens’ free speech. Trying to get around that prohibition by pressuring or colluding with non-governmental entities to do the government’s censoring for it is also illegal. You’re welcome to read the full Epoch Times article.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 8, 2022 at 4:34 AM

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Embarking on another round of beetle galleries

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In April I showed you some bark beetle galleries on a fallen tree in Great Hills Park. On August 21st I returned to that spot and embarked on another round of picture-taking at the same tree and a couple of nearby ones.

For more information about this phenomenon, you can read “The Truth Behind Bug Trails” and “Bark Beetles.”

 

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I haven’t given enough credit to Sharyl Attkisson, a multi-award-winning journalist who promotes free inquiry and accurate reporting. Last year I watched Jan Jekielek interview her on those subjects but I didn’t post a link to the interview; here it is now. And there are plenty of good stories on her website.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 25, 2022 at 4:50 AM

Two degrees of passing away

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In February of 2021 a days-long freeze killed off all the huisache trees (Vachellia farnesiana) in Austin. I saw no new growth for the rest of that year but am happy to report seeing some green springing up from the wreckage in the past few months, even with our current drought. The broken remains of the huisache tree shown here along John Henry Faulk Dr. on August 1st caught my attention because of the Clematis drummondii vine that had climbed on it and had entered its fluffy stage, with the seed-bearing fibers gradually turning dingy and accounting for the vernacular name old man’s beard. Seen from this angle, the fluffy mound calls to mind—at least to my fluffy mind—the way the main part of Spain looks on a map.

 

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Last month I quoted from a talk about free speech that Carl Sagan gave in around 1987. The other day I came across another prescient passage, this time from his 1995 book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark:

I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness. The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.

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© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 13, 2022 at 4:27 AM

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Mesquite pods with added interest

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While out on the Blackland Prairie in far northeast Austin on the first day of August I came upon a mesquite tree (Prosopis glandulosa) with plenty of long, well-developed pods on it. Whether the species name glandulosa accounts for the two resinous drops on one of these pods, I don’t know. I do know that the drops attracted me as a photographer. Not till after I got home and looked at the pictures on my computer screen did I notice the tiny spider close to the larger of the two drops. From a different frame taken at a different angle, here’s a closer look at the tiny spider and the larger resin drop:

 

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On Monday I saw a photograph showing a 2018 demonstration outside Minnesota’s Capitol. Prominent in the photograph was a handwritten placard that began: “Hammer[s,] screwdrivers and knives kill more people than rifles.” You know me: I immediately wondered if the claim is true. To try to find facts to confirm or refute it, I did an Internet search and turned up an article from the Joslyn Law Firm. Here’s how it starts:

With the renewed push by the federal government for an assault weapons ban, we couldn’t help but wonder, just how often are assault rifles really to blame for crimes? More specifically, how often are they used as murder weapons when compared to all of the other types of weapons available?

Using FBI homicide statistics from the 2019 Crime in the United States report, the insights team at the Joslyn Law Firm charted out how often different types of weapons were used in homicides in the U.S. Of the 16,425 homicides that occurred in 2019, the FBI was able to collect supplemental data for 13,922 of them, which is what our data is based on. The weapon types are broken down into the different types of firearms: handguns, rifles, shotguns, and a category for homicides in which the type of firearm was unknown. It also compares the number of homicides that were committed by non-firearm weapons such as knives or cutting instruments as well as bodily weapons, which include people’s hands, fists, and feet. Non-firearm weapons were used for one-quarter of all homicides in the United States.

You can look through the resulting chart (click on it to enlarge it). Of the 13,922 homicides in 2019, rifles accounted for a mere 364 (2.6%). If you want to interpret “rifle” loosely as “long gun” and therefore include shotguns, you can add another 200 (1.4%). In contrast, there were 1476 (10.6%) homicides using knives or other cutting instruments, so already the claim on the demonstrator’s placard seems correct. Because the placard also included hammers and screwdrivers, the outweighing of rifles is even greater.

One possible objection is that 3326 (23.9%) of the homicides involved firearms of an undetermined type. Might enough of those have been rifles to increase the rifle total of 364 to more than the 1476 incidents involving knives and other cutting instruments? While that’s theoretically possible, it’s extremely unlikely, given that among the firearms that have been identified in homicides, rifles account for only 5.25%. We have no reason to suppose the distribution of undetermined gun types is overwhelmingly different from the distribution of determined gun types.

The current push among certain activists is to ban so-called assault rifles, which are a subset of rifles in general, and therefore account for even less than the 2.6% of all the rifles known to have been used in homicides.

To fill out the broader picture, notice that there were 600 (4.3%) murders involving “hands, fists, feet, etc.” (I wonder about that “etc.”: is there homicide by knee or elbow?) That number is also greater in its own right than the known number of homicides committed with rifles. Blunt objects, poison, explosives, fire, narcotics, and other agents accounted for 1591 (11.4%) of murders—again a lot more than the number using rifles. People committed by far the greatest number of homicides with handguns: 6365, or 45.7%. For that reason activists who want to ban “assault” rifles work to make it hard for people to legally get handguns, too. (Of course criminals, by the very fact of being criminals, abide by no prohibitions on guns.) In any case, short of repealing or tortuously reinterpreting the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees the right of the people to keep and bear arms, the complete prohibition of guns in the United States can’t happen.

In summary, based on the FBI’s 2019 statistics, the claim that hammers, screwdrivers, and knives kill more people in the United States than rifles turns out to be true, and by a convincingly large margin. If that doesn’t seem right, it’s probably because whenever a mass shooting involving a rifle like an AK-47 or an AR-15 occurs, it immediately makes the news and stays there for days. Meanwhile, we hardly ever hear about most of the much greater number of people who are killed individually by other means every single day of the year. Psychologists refer to that as the availability bias or availability heuristic: what you’re frequently exposed to looms much larger in your view of the world than what you’re seldom exposed to.

It’s important to have all the relevant facts and statistics when evaluating something.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 11, 2022 at 4:41 AM

Red and brown offsetting the green

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The tree that botanists classify as Parkinsonia aculeata is commonly known even in English as paloverde, a Spanish term that we might translate as ‘green wood.’ While parts of the tree’s branches and trunk often turn conspicuously green, its thorns take on warm colors like red and brown, as you see above. Also sporting some colors in that range was the planthopper shown below on one of the paloverde tree’s leaves. The date was June 24th; the location was Fireoak Dr., a couple of miles from home.

 

  

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From 2017 through 2019 the folks at Gapminder posed various questions to people. Two days ago I listed four of them for you to try your hand (or brain) at. The correct answer to each is in bold italics.

1)  In 1980, roughly 40% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty, with less than $2 per day.
What is the share today?       A) 10%       B) 30%       C) 50%

2)  During the past 40 years the amount of oil and natural gas remaining in known reserves has:
A) been reduced to less than half       B) remained more or less the same       C) more than doubled

3)  How much of the world’s total land surface has some physical infrastructure built on it, like houses or roads (excluding farm land)?        A) less than 5%       B) around 15%       C) more than 25%

4)  How many of the world’s one-year-old children were vaccinated against some disease in 2019?        
A) less than 20%       B) around 50%       C) more than 80% 

 For all four questions, Gapminder found that the right answer got the smallest share of votes.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 5, 2022 at 4:25 AM

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Not red this time

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Every now and then I’ve shown you a photograph of the many little red fruits that adorn yaupon trees (Ilex vomitoria) at the end of the year and into the new year. You’ve also occasionally seen some of the gluttons, both avian and mammalian, that feast on those fruits (the last two links take you to cute little animal pictures; check them out).

On April 15th in Great Hills Park I found a couple of yaupons in full bloom—something I hadn’t previously seen (at least not consciously). The top picture provides a close look at a sprig of buds and blooms. In contrast, the bottom photograph pulls way back to give you an overview, a gestalt. In neither picture do you see the many insects that the flowers attracted.

 

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“Our task is that of making ourselves individuals. The conscience of a race is the gift of its individuals.”
— Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man, 1952.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 19, 2022 at 4:29 AM

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Bark beetle galleries

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In Great Hills Park on April 3rd a fallen tree trunk revealed bark beetle galleries.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

  

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 14, 2022 at 4:20 AM

Contortions

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Contorted is how I might describe the branch of a possumhaw tree (Ilex decidua) already leafing out at East Metropolitan Park on March 25th. Five days earlier, as spring officially began, I’d photographed a prickly pear pad in my part of Austin that had reached the end of its life. In addition to the usual drying out and loss of green that a dead pad undergoes, it had contorted itself in a way that made me have to do its portrait.

 

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And speaking of contortion, I recommend Reason for its anti-contorted stance, which is to say its adherence to reason. The magazine of “free minds and free markets” promotes free speech, due process, and the deciding of matters based on evidence and logic. If you check out the Reason website, you’ll notice that it finds things to criticize in camps on both sides of the conventional left~right political divide. You could call that outlook libertarian.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 31, 2022 at 4:29 AM

Two notable encounters

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As many years as I’ve lived in Austin (almost 46), and as many years as I’ve been seriously taking nature photographs (about half of 46), I still keep finding new places to ply my trade here, even as properties where I’ve worked have kept succumbing to development, including a few more already this year. On March 12th we trod the Twin Creeks Historic Park Trail in Cedar Park for the first time. About half a mile in, on the grounds of the mid-19th-century John M. King Log House, a man approximately my age came up to me and asked if I’d found an iPhone. He had one in his hand, but it turned out to be his wife’s, from which he was intermittently calling his lost phone to see if he could hear it ringing. Unfortunately he couldn’t.

About 10 minutes later Eve came across an iPhone in a case on a park bench, and of course that had to be the phone the man was looking for. The case included his driver’s license (and credit cards!), so I figured I’d be able to track him down, if necessary by driving to the address on his license. That proved unnecessary because it turned out that the man—surprisingly and again not prudently—kept his phone unlocked. As a result I was able to go into the phone, look at the log of recent calls, and call his wife’s phone. Talk about making someone’s day. We hung around while the man walked all the way back from the parking area, which he had just reached when I called. He said that after three round trips between the parking lot and the old log house, he wouldn’t need to do his stationary bicycle that evening.

Near the log house and then further along the easy-to-walk trail, I stopped every now and then to photograph several prominent sycamore trees with white limbs, one of which appears below. Most interesting, though, was the sycamore shown in the top picture, which had apparently fallen across a creek and then managed to stay alive for years, as evidenced by the large vertical branches rising from the horizontal trunk. Strange, don’t you think?

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 22, 2022 at 4:30 AM

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∏ Day for 2022

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Because the value of π when rounded to two decimal places is 3.14, mathematically minded folks have taken to calling March 14th π Day. Now, π happens to get pronounced in English the same as pie, and in Texas a favorite one of those is pecan pie. That happily provides a reason for this post—which went out at 3:14 in the morning—to show you two venerable pecan trees (Carya illinoinensis). The one above is from Richard Moya Park on February 11th. The one below is from the Copperfield Nature Trail along Walnut Creek on February 19th. In neither case would the gnarly, scaly bark that’s photographically delicious make for a good pie, though you could write a pie-in-the-sky story in which it did. You might even take your inspiration from a fantasy like “The Pied Piper.”

In closing, let me go off on a bit of a tangent by saying I can’t not point out how pi-ous math teachers are [and notice in good algebraic fashion how a double negative makes a positive out of can’t not].

 

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On March 2nd I linked to a 39-minute video interview with Garry Kasparov, perhaps the greatest chess player in our lifetime. Having grown up in the Soviet Union, he is also a staunch advocate for freedom and democracy, and currently chairman of the Human Rights Foundation. This time I want to tell you about another great Russian chess player and advocate for freedom, Natan Sharansky, who coincidentally was born in the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine that Putin used as a pretext to invade the country. In the 1970s and ’80s Sharansky was among the best known of the so-called refuseniks who worked toward and eventually succeeded in getting many Jews out of the Soviet Union.

Now, in a March 7th Tablet article “Ten Questions for Natan Sharansky,” he offers many insights into the current crisis in Ukraine. For example:

So whether it is Poland, or whether it is Kamchatka, [Putin] sees these all like a czar—all Russian lands—and he sees bringing them back as his historical charge. For this he has worked already for many years. Belarus is practically part of Russia now. He tried Georgia in 2008, and he got Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which are now in fact Russia. Chechnya too, of course, though with a lot of blood, but now it’s his. And he is active all the time in Kazakhstan and the other Stans.

But of course the key here was always Ukraine. Even in our dissidents’ prisons, when we all saw that the Soviet Union would be falling apart, because it was too weak from inside, the critical piece we saw then was Ukraine. In our dreams Ukraine was becoming an independent country, like France or something, not only because of the large population but because it had the wheat and coal and metallurgy and missiles and everything.

It didn’t happen exactly so. Because of corruption and other things, Ukraine went through a difficult period. But nevertheless, a democratic Ukraine was born. So that was a big shock to Putin, and that’s why he has to declare openly that Ukraine is not a state and Ukraine is not a nation, and calls them neo-Nazis, and talks about bringing back its “historical status.”

And consider this assessment:

Russia is not the strongest country and Putin is not the strongest leader in the world. In fact, Russia today is something like 3% of the world economy and NATO represents something closer to 50%. And here it is very important to understand Putin’s psychology. From my time among criminals in prison, I know very well that the one who’s the ringleader in the cell is not the one who is physically strongest, but the one who is ready to use his knife. Everybody has a knife, but not everybody is prepared to use it. Putin believes that he is willing to use his knife and the West isn’t, that the West can only talk, even if it is physically stronger.

You can read the Tablet article to learn much more.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 14, 2022 at 3:14 AM

Posted in nature photography

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